Much like many photographers I started out taking photos about the house, with family and locally. I really enjoyed taking photos of flowers and nature and was just happy playing around with my new camera.
As I learned more and had a better understanding of my camera I started to take photos of people as well. It was intimidating at first, but when I got a great photo I found it was a lot more rewarding to getting a nice capture of a flower.
I continued to practice and found that I wanted to get better. I took some average photos and some great ones, but I was still learning a lot about light. And, I found that taking photos of moving subjects was also a challenge. But, I wanted to figure it out.
In early 2011 I felt like I was ready for the next step. At this point I had done several portraits and covered some family events and was confident in myself. I also knew that I wanted to continue to challenge myself. Through a local photography club and a lot of research online I decided I wanted to try out wedding photography. It sounded like a big undertaking, but the challenge excited me. I felt I was ready to give it a go, and to be honest, I never considered doing this on my own quite yet.
So, I teamed up with a fellow photographer and I went along with him to do a wedding on Martha's Vineyard. If I recall I had a lot of questions for him leading up to the wedding. Of course I wanted to know what was expected of me and to be able to produce some nice images as well.
Following are a few photos from that wedding:
This was a fantastic experience for me and left me with one thought: I want to be a wedding photographer!
But, I knew that I still needed to improve and to learn a lot more.
Shortly after I went on a search for a wedding photographer who might be in need of a second shooter. I knew I could learn a lot from someone with years of experience and who might have a few weddings I could help them with.
I was very lucky to find a local photographer interested. We met and talked photography for a bit and soon after I was hired. I was thrilled! We did 5 weddings together and I learned a lot and had a lot of fun.
Key things I learned:
1. Where to be.
This might sound silly, but knowing where to position yourself throughout a wedding is very important. You never want to be in the way of another photographer or constantly having to dash across the room because the couple decided to face the opposite way. I've learned to scope out the hall or church really quickly to plan where I might stand throughout the ceremony. When working with second photographers its also good to know where you would like for them to be as well.
2. To be super aware of changing in lighting.
This can be pretty obvious when taking photos outside an then moving indoors for the ceremony and vice versa, but as the wedding day moves quickly it can get tricky. There were a couple times early on that I forgot to change my settings when I went outside and used a very high ISO. I did make sure that my exposure was correct, but the photos were not optimal given the settings I used.
3. Shoot three photos of important moments.
There are many important moments in weddings from the kiss, to the exchanging of rings to the cake cutting. To make sure you have a shot in focus, with good lighting and just at the right moment I learned to take 3 photos of the same moment, and no more. Early on I was told not to "shoot and pray". This is when you take dozens of photos hoping to get the right photo.
4. Photos in focus are most valuable.
Its true that a photo with a lot of grain, or cropped improperly can be adjusted in post processing, but taking a blurry photo and making it great is near impossible. Adjusting settings during a wedding can be stressful enough, but getting non-blurry photos was something to always pay attention to. This is something I learned to pay attention to immediately.
5. The 30% keeper rule.
I don't know if this is a universal rule or not, but it makes a lot of sense. Personally, I think it should be about 35%. Once all the photos were taken and we had the chance to go through them I was told we should have a 30% minimum keeper rate. This means from all the photos you took on the day 30% should be non-blurry, different and with proper settings. I will admit that when I started I was closer to 25%. But, by the time we were done working together I was closer to 35%. It was very nice to review my images together and get tips on what went write vs what went wrong. I noticed that some of my settings weren't optimal. Lightroom does a great job of filtering which camera, lens, and settings you use. I learned a ton from these critiques.
6. How to bounce flash properly.
In lower light situations I knew that flash would get me better exposure and allow me to use a lower ISO which equaled more detail. I knew how to bounce flash, but in some circumstances (smaller spaces) it was very tough to not get those deep shadows. I was told to remove my diffuser and to use a bounce card instead. Also, I found that I could lower the flash power and still get great fill light. This really helped me to take photos with flash with more confidence and my batteries lasted longer as well!
7. Battery life and SD use.
I mentioned this earlier sort of, but working a full day as a second photographer allowed me to get a good sense of how any memory cards I would use and how many batteries my cameras and flash would use as well. So, going into future weddings alone I had a good idea of how much I needed to bring with me. Going from a photo session to a wedding might leave you stressed out if you don't know exactly how many batteries and memory cards you need to have with you.
8. Learning my style.
Although this is still developing I learned a lot from working those weddings as a second photographer. I was always happy to be photographing the details, and candids. I didn't feel the pressure of being a primary photographer, but was still kept quite busy taking other important photos. I also started to make the transition from zoom lenses to prime lenses which gave me shallower depth of field, worked well in low light and let me get more candid photos without being as noticed.
9. I love photographing weddings.
Most of all this opportunity allowed me to realize how much I love weddings and being able to photograph them. Early on I knew that weddings aren't for everyone. I heard lots of stories of how stressful and chaotic they can be. I heard that nothing goes as planned and that sometimes lighting is awful. And although some of this might have been true, I truly enjoyed it. To me it felt like taking all aspects of photography that I enjoy; people, candids, scenes and macro, and having a full day to capture it. It has and will continue to challenge me as no two weddings are the same, but will always be fulfilling.
10. How to be a good primary photographer.
Over time I started taking on my own weddings and also brought on a second photographer. Having had this experience myself I knew better what to look for when I was interviewing candidates. Also, I had a good understanding of how to direct them throughout the day and how to have their work help me complete the full story of the couple's day.
I honestly feel that I would not be as good a wedding photographer today if I had not started out as a second photographer. I can understand feeling like you can make a lot of money doing this, if done properly, but you should be well prepared to deliver quality photos for this special day in a couple's lives. Also, this experience has also allowed me to help advise other young photographers looking to take a similar path into wedding photography. You can dive into doing a wedding with zero experience, but I would not recommend it. I will always recommend educating yourself first and possibly learning from someone else. And for some, being a second photographer will let them know that wedding photography is clearly not for them, instead of figuring that out half way through the ceremony.